The Cellular Telecommunication Industry Association concluded its wireless show in Las Vegas on March 25th, and provided the tech community with a couple of interesting platforms to ponder over and analyze. In this article, we will go over two major announcements and their ramifications for the smartphone industry. The first one is a path breaking product, while the second one is yet another iPhone wannabe. However, it is really the silicon behind these two products which deserves analysis.

Sprint is the leading US wireless service provider as far as the race to next-generation high bandwidth wireless data infrastructure (4G) is concerned. After merging with Clearwire, it adopted WiMAX as its 4G strategy, while the others hopped on to the LTE / HSPA+ bandwagon. Though none of these technologies have gained widespread acceptance in the US yet (due to the lack of infrastructure / devices capable of utilizing these technologies), the 2010 CTIA show saw the introduction of a smartphone which could represent the first step towards making 4G a reality for the American consumer. As the first US smartphone to take advantage of WiMAX, the announcement of the Sprint HTC EVO 4G is indeed a landmark. 

The capabilities of the innovations on display in the HTC EVO depend largely on the quality of the WiMAX networks and the loads it would be subjected to. On the other hand, the application processor in a smartphone is directly responsible for the quality of user interaction. It is in this area that the Samsung Galaxy S scores. With an user interface bearing an uncanny resemblance to the iPhone, it is excusable if one pushes it to the side as yet another knockoff, albeit, from a reputable brand. However, a little digging reveals that the app processor used is the Samsung S5PC110, the next generation version of the S5PC100. If you'll remember, a derivative of the S5PC100 was used in the iPhone 3GS.

In the rest of this article, we will analyze these two platforms and finally draw some conclusions as to where the smartphone silicon market is headed, based on the products which went on display at the 2010 CTIA wireless show.

Sprint HTC EVO 4G
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  • Strings - Wednesday, March 31, 2010 - link

    How does the smart phone of today compare with the PC of yesterday? Would be interesting to see an article on the subject. Reply
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, March 31, 2010 - link

    Thanks for your suggestion.

    We do have an article coming up on the different app processors in the market (as noted in the above article), and could probably add in information relevant to your request.

    Personally, I would say that the smartphone of today is much more powerful than, say, a PC from 10 years back, and I dare say, probably more efficient at some common tasks than even the current day PCs (in terms of performance to power ratio). For example, most PCs from 2006 can't play back HD video without dropping frames (and the GPUs of those days didn't have decode acceleration either). However, even a small smartphone / PMP is able to playback such material flawlessly.

    On the general purpose computing side, the advancement in smartphone capabilities has been entirely reliant on how much ARM has been able to innovate, coupled with advances in semiconductor manufacturing processes that the fabless semiconductor companies have access to. Usually, PC CPU vendors have an advantage with respect to the latter point.

    The smartphone market has shaped itself in such a way that the most common tasks are taken care of through specialized hardware accelerators (for example, UI through 3d graphics cores, and media playback through specialized decode engines) which give it an advantage over PCs.

    Whether PCs can be completely replaced by smartphones is something up for discussion. Again, my personal opinion is that it depends on the extent of success of cloud computing and how much people trust it. But then, that is a whole different domain altogether :)
    Reply
  • Drizzt321 - Wednesday, March 31, 2010 - link

    Because if it is, I'm of two minds about if I'd like this phone or not. See the ArsTechnica article (http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/news/2010/03/secret... which details some interesting things about it. Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, April 1, 2010 - link

    Recently, it was brought to our attention that the WiMax baseband chip on the HTC EVO 4G is not manufactured by Beceem as previously thought, but by the French company Sequans Communication:

    http://www.eetimes.com/rss/showArticle.jhtml?artic...

    We will continue to keep in touch with the market and bring you further information.

    The error is deeply regretted.
    Reply
  • ulbdd@free.fr - Saturday, April 3, 2010 - link

    Indeed. The first WiMAX phone made by HTC for Russian operator Yota already did use a Sequans chipset, the SQN1130. The EVO uses the more recent SQN1210 with improved performance and lower power consumption and smaller footprint.

    See for example on Yota phone using SQN1130:
    http://www.wimax.com/commentary/blog/blog-2009/nov...

    And a more recent indicating Sequans again for EVO:
    http://connectedplanetonline.com/ctia/2010/news/sp...
    http://www.wirelessweek.com/News/Feeds/2010/03/wir...

    For info on the SQN1210:
    http://www.sequans.com/products-solutions/mobile-w...
    Reply
  • dadicool - Friday, April 2, 2010 - link

    Somehow Nvidia's Tegra2 doesn't make it to the list of App Processors. Omission or is it deliberate? Reply
  • ganeshts - Friday, April 2, 2010 - link

    I believe Tegra2 is a very promising platform, but the truth is that it hasn't been demonstrated yet in a smartphone form factor. All we have seen at CES and MWC this year have been tablets and the like. It is likely that Nvidia is unable to fit the platform within the power envelop required by a smartphone.

    Personally, I think Tegra2 deserves kudos for being the first chip to bring out Cortex-A9 in silicon inside real third party demo-ed products (such as the Notion Ink Adam). Whether they are able to get it into production before OMAP4 (which is also Cortex-A9) products hit the market remains to be seen.
    Reply
  • Randomblame - Friday, April 2, 2010 - link

    I NEEeed a new phone msm7201a and 128mb of ram is just pathetic, I want the hd2 but at&t won't be carrying it and it won't support 3g on their network, desire looks nice but it won't be out for a while yet and it's android native which means there won't be the fun of porting linux to it or the freedom to run winmo when I want. I may have to get a topaz or rhodium to tide me over till the next great thing Reply
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  • Eurobrsg - Saturday, April 3, 2010 - link

    It looks like Apple has recently purchased Intrinisity. Shortly after this article went live, I tried to visit their website, now I know what happened. Great article. Reply

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